Big East Preview

Two head-to-head games, two out of conference tilts and two off weeks make for a symmetrical game day in the Big East on Saturday

NOT EXACTLY MARQUEE

The Syracuse - Rutgers game featured nine turnovers. The Orange ran 20 plays for 88 total yards in the first half, and had just 169 yards passing in the contest. Rutgers countered with just five rushing yards (an average of 0.1 yards per carry) and the teams combined for 21 penalties . This game certainly won't make it into the Big East archives alongside the six-overtime Syracuse - UConn basketball game.


EXTRA TIME

Three of Syracuse's five games have been decided in overtime this season. The Orange are 2-1 in extra sessions this year, having defeated Wake Forest and Toledo in single extra sessions, while losing to Rutgers in double overtime.


SHIFT IN EMPHASIS

Several Big East teams have seen shifts in indentity this year. WVU, built on defense over the past couple of years, has seen its offense skyrocket while its scoring defense has dropped to seventh in the conference. USF, normally very good on defense, has likewise seen a drop, as its scoring and total defense rankings are just sixth in the league, and Pitt has seen its defensive rankings plummet as well, as it has yielded more yards than any other league school. Rutgers has picked up the pace defensively, using an opportunistic corps (18 takeaways on the year) to move to the top of the Big East's defensive rankings. The Scarlet Knights are tops in the country in turnover margin at +2.75 per game. Meanwhile, Louisivlle, normally very good on offense, is averaging just 18.8 points per outing in 2011.


PICKS

Picking Big East games this year is like trying to find a good loaf of bread at the day-old store -- there's a decent chance you're going to end up with something stale and crusty. Every team has had its share of sub-par performances, and the league is 5-8 against BCS foes. (None of those outside of LSU, which West Virginia lost to, is scaring anyone on the national scene either). What's worse, there have been losses to MAC, CUSA and SunBelt schools. While the league tries to promote the idea that the parity which exists in the league is a good thing, it's not when the parity is shared with conferences that would require Google Maps and a GPS to locate.

That aside, here's this week's projections:

  • It might be the kiss of death, but West Virginia looks like the most consistent of the leagues teams at this point, and the one that is at least headed on an upward directory. UConn won't be able to score enough to keep up with the Mountaineers at home.

  • the last time Louisville visited North Carolina, the Cardinals had a high-powered offense. Not so on this trip. The TarHeels are the selection.

  • Did Pitt get its offense in gear for good, or was it just some favorable match-ups against USF? Rutgers has an opportunistic defense that might test the Panthers, but can it score enough to snare the upset? Not this time.

  • If Syracuse loses to Tulane, the Big East should immediately drop it from the league and declare forfeits for all its remaining conference games. Not because Syracuse is all that much better than the Green Wave, but just because. A dispassionate look at the game reveals a shaky 'Cuse offense against a worse Tulane defense, but I see nothing on the Orange side that indicates an ability to win a road game, even in a venue that will be about as intimidating as an elementary school playground. Tulane gets the nod.


    CINCINNATI Open Date
    Next Game
    Sat 10/15
    vs. Louisville

    CONNECTICUT at West Virginia
    Sat 10/8
    12:00 PM
    Big East
    Saturday's game will be the eighth meeting between Connecticut and West Virginia in a series that began in 2004 … The Mountaineers won the first six meetings before the Huskies claimed their first win in the series last year — a 16-13 decision in overtime at Rentschler Field … West Virginia is 3-0 against Connecticut in Morgantown … The schools have tied for the BIG EAST title twice in the last five years (2007, 2010).

    Connecticut fell to 2-3 after a 38-31 setback to Western Michigan at Rentschler Field … The Huskies are 1-1 on the road this season, falling 24-21 at Vanderbilt and scoring a 17-3 win at Buffalo … The Huskies enjoyed their best offensive performance of the season against Western Michigan last weekend, finishing with a season-high 451 yards, but allowed a season-high 490 yards to the Broncos … Connecticut has forced at least one turnover in all five games this season and has at least two takeaways in three of the five games … The Huskies have played three quarterbacks this year, though QB Johnny McEntee has settled in as the primary option … McEntee had career highs with 300 passing yards and four touchdown passes against Western Michigan … RB Lyle McCombs is ranked second in the BIG EAST in rushing at 100.4 yards per game … WR Kashif Moore has 16 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns … LB Jory Johnson leads the BIG EAST in tackles (8.8 per game) … DT Kendall Reyes is tied for the BIG EAST lead with four sacks and is the conference leader with 9.5 tackles for loss.

    West Virginia bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 55-10 win against Bowling Green … The Mountaineers reeled off a season-high 643 yards of offense against Bowling Green and rank 14th nationally in total offense (496.0 yards per game) … West Virginia entered last week's game with 306 rushing yards on the season and rushed for 360 yards against Bowling Green … RB Dustin Garrison ran for 291 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons moving him to sixth in the BIG EAST this season at 71.2 yards per game … QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, ranks fifth nationally in passing (341.8 yards per game) and seventh in total offense (368.3 ypg), leading the BIG EAST in both categories … Smith has completed 138 of 213 passes for 1,709 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions … The primary beneficiary has been WR Tavon Austin, who is second in the BIG EAST in both receptions (7.0 rpg) and receiving yards (98.0 ypg) … The defense is led by LB Najee Goode and LB Pat Miller, who have 36 tackles each … CB Keith Tandy and S Terence Garvin both have two interceptions, while three players have one sack each … DE Bruce Irvin leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.


    LOUISVILLE at N. Carolina
    Sat 10/8
    12::00 PM
    ESPN2
    Saturday's game will be the sixth meeting between Louisville and North Carolina … The Cardinals hold a 3-2 series lead in a rivalry that dates to 1988 … Louisville has won the last two meetings by a combined scored of 103-14, including a 34-0 win in their last trip to Chapel Hill in 2004 … North Carolina interim head coach Everett Withers served as Louisville's defensive coordinator from 1995-97.

    Louisville looks to rebound from a 17-13 loss to Marshall in which the Cardinals were shut out in the second half … Louisville is 5-2 on the road under head coach Charlie Strong, including a 24-17 win at Kentucky in its only road game of the 2011 season … QB Will Stein, who started the first three games, is considered day-to-day with a shoulder injury suffered in the win against Kentucky … QB Teddy Bridgewater made his first career start last week … Stein has thrown for 615 yards and five touchdowns with one interception, while Bridgewater has 341 passing yards with three TDs and three INTs … The Cardinals have used three running backs regularly, but have just two rushing touchdowns this season … WR Devante Parker has a team-high three touchdown catches … Louisville's defense has held opponents to just 85.0 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry … The Cardinals lead the nation in tackles for loss, averaging 9.0 TFL per game … LB Dexter Heyman has a team-high 34 tackles with six tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble … DE Greg Scruggs has a team-high three sacks.

    North Carolina has opened with four wins in five games for Everett Withers, who is serving as the Tar Heels' interim coach after Butch Davis was dismissed July 27 … Withers had been North Carolina's defensive coordinator since 2008 … The Tar Heels enter Saturday's game following a 35-20 win at East Carolina … North Carolina scored the first 21 points against East Carolina in front of a record crowd in Greenville, N.C. … The lone loss was a 35-28 setback at Georgia Tech Sept. 24 … North Carolina also has a win against a BIG EAST opponent after edging Rutgers 24-22 Sept. 10 … QB Bryn Renner has completed 75.7 percent of his passes (87 of 115) for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions … Renner ranks fifth nationally in pass efficiency (179.1) … RB Giovani Bernard is averaging 109.6 rushing yards per game with seven touchdowns … WR Dwight Jones has 33 receptions for 514 yards (averaging 102.8 yards per game) with six touchdown catches … DE Quinton Coples was an All-ACC First Team selection last season and is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks … LB Kevin Reddick has a team-high 33 tackles, while LB Zach Brown leads the team with five tackles for loss.


    PITTSBURGH at Rutgers
    Sat 10/8
    3:30 PM
    ESPNU
    Pittsburgh and Rutgers have met 28 times prior to Saturday's game, and the Panthers hold a 21-7 series lead … Pittsburgh is 13-7 against Rutgers in BIG EAST games … The Panthers have won the last two meetings, though the Scarlet Knights won the previous four … Pittsburgh was a 41-21 winner last year at Heinz Field behind three touchdown passes from QB Tino Sunseri, who threw for 307 yards … Rutgers assistant coaches Frank Cignetti, Brian Angelichio and Jeff Hafley all served at Pittsburgh before joining Greg Schiano's staff this year … Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene is the older brother of Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham.

    Pittsburgh rebounded from back-to-back losses with a 44-17 win against USF at Heinz Field in the BIG EAST opener … It was Pittsburgh's first win against a top-25 opponent since a 26-21 decision against USF Oct. 2, 2008 … The Panthers have held fourth-quarter leads in both of their losses only to see their opponents (Iowa, Notre Dame) rally down the stretch … The Panthers had season highs in points (44) and yards (523) in the win against USF … RB Ray Graham leads the BIG EAST and is ranked third nationally in rushing at 146.8 yards per game … Graham has rushed for 734 yards and eight touchdowns on 126 carries … Graham was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week after going for 226 yards and two TDs against USF … QB Tino Sunseri has completed 65.4 percent of his passes (104 of 159) for 1,039 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions … Graham has a team-high 25 receptions … LB Max Gruder has a team-high 44 tackles, while LB Brandon Lindsey leads the team with four sacks.

    Rutgers opened BIG EAST play with a 19-16 win against Syracuse in double-overtime last week … The win snapped a six-game losing streak in road games and it gave Rutgers just its second win in a BIG EAST opener on the road … The Scarlet Knight defense is ranked fourth nationally in sacks (3.5 per game) … Rutgers is tied with Cincinnati for the national lead with 18 turnovers gained this sesason … The Scarlet Knights have allowed just nine points after the start of the fourth quarter … QB Chas Dodd has completed 69 of 127 passes for 754 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions … WR Mohamed Sanu enters Saturday's game ranked third nationally in receptions (10.8 per game) … Sanu has 43 catches for 428 yards and five touchdowns … RB Savon Huggins has all three of Rutgers' rushing touchdowns this year … LB Khaseem Greene has a team-high 34 tackles … LB Steve Beauharnais is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks and has a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss … S Duron Harmon has a team-leading three interceptions.


    RUTGERS vs. Pitt
    Sat 10/8
    3:30 PM
    ESPNU
    Pittsburgh and Rutgers have met 28 times prior to Saturday's game, and the Panthers hold a 21-7 series lead … Pittsburgh is 13-7 against Rutgers in BIG EAST games … The Panthers have won the last two meetings, though the Scarlet Knights won the previous four … Pittsburgh was a 41-21 winner last year at Heinz Field behind three touchdown passes from QB Tino Sunseri, who threw for 307 yards … Rutgers assistant coaches Frank Cignetti, Brian Angelichio and Jeff Hafley all served at Pittsburgh before joining Greg Schiano's staff this year … Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene is the older brother of Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham.

    Pittsburgh rebounded from back-to-back losses with a 44-17 win against USF at Heinz Field in the BIG EAST opener … It was Pittsburgh's first win against a top-25 opponent since a 26-21 decision against USF Oct. 2, 2008 … The Panthers have held fourth-quarter leads in both of their losses only to see their opponents (Iowa, Notre Dame) rally down the stretch … The Panthers had season highs in points (44) and yards (523) in the win against USF … RB Ray Graham leads the BIG EAST and is ranked third nationally in rushing at 146.8 yards per game … Graham has rushed for 734 yards and eight touchdowns on 126 carries … Graham was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week after going for 226 yards and two TDs against USF … QB Tino Sunseri has completed 65.4 percent of his passes (104 of 159) for 1,039 yards and five touchdowns with four interceptions … Graham has a team-high 25 receptions … LB Max Gruder has a team-high 44 tackles, while LB Brandon Lindsey leads the team with four sacks.

    Rutgers opened BIG EAST play with a 19-16 win against Syracuse in double-overtime last week … The win snapped a six-game losing streak in road games and it gave Rutgers just its second win in a BIG EAST opener on the road … The Scarlet Knight defense is ranked fourth nationally in sacks (3.5 per game) … Rutgers is tied with Cincinnati for the national lead with 18 turnovers gained this sesason … The Scarlet Knights have allowed just nine points after the start of the fourth quarter … QB Chas Dodd has completed 69 of 127 passes for 754 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions … WR Mohamed Sanu enters Saturday's game ranked third nationally in receptions (10.8 per game) … Sanu has 43 catches for 428 yards and five touchdowns … RB Savon Huggins has all three of Rutgers' rushing touchdowns this year … LB Khaseem Greene has a team-high 34 tackles … LB Steve Beauharnais is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks and has a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss … S Duron Harmon has a team-leading three interceptions.


    SYRACUSE at Tulane
    Sat 910/8
    8:00 PM
    Cox Sports TV
    Saturday's game will be the eighth meeting between Syracuse and Tulane in a series that dates to 1975 … The schools haven't met since 1999, when the Orange were 47-17 winners to build a 6-1 series lead … The lone Tulane win was in 1990 (26-24 in Syracuse) … The Orange are 3-0 against the Green Wave in New Orleans.

    Syracuse lost at home for the first time this season as the Orange let a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter get away before Rutgers took a 19-16 decision in doubleovertime … It was Syracuse's third overtime game of the season … The only other team nationally with more than one game decided in OT this year is Louisiana Tech, which has had two overtime games … The Orange are 2-1 in overtime this season … Syracuse has won five of its last seven road games dating to last season … RB Antwon Bailey has registered back-to-back games with at least 100 rushing yards and ranks fourth in the BIG EAST at 88.4 yards per game … QB Ryan Nassib is third in the BIG EAST in passing (221.6 yards per game) … Nassib has completed 105 of 158 passes for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns and four interceptions … WR Alec Lemon has a team-high 29 receptions for 290 yards and three touchdowns, while WR Van Chew also has three TDs on 19 receptions for 288 yards … LB Dan Vaughan has a team-high 38 tackles with four tackles for loss … LB Dyshawn Davis shares the BIG EAST lead with four sacks and has six tackles for loss … S Phillip Thomas is tied for the BIG EAST lead with three interceptions.

    Tulane looks to snap a two-game losing streak as the Green Wave dropped a 45-6 decision at Army last Saturday … The Green Wave has fallen to Tulsa (31-3) and Duke (48-27) and has wins against Southeastern Louisiana (47-33) and Alabama- Birmingham (49-10) … The game against Syracuse will end a string of three straight road games for Tulane as the Green Wave play the first of three straight at home … The Green Wave last faced a BIG EAST team last season, when Tulane was a 17-14 winner at Rutgers … Tulane went 4-8 last season and is looking for its first winning season since 2002 … The primary threat on offense is RB Orleans Darkwa, who was an All-Conference USA First Team pick as a freshman last year … Darkwa has rushed for 299 yards and four touchdowns on 72 carries this season … QB Ryan Griffin has completed 78 of 137 passes for 980 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions … WR Joe Kemp has a team-high 20 receptions for 215 yards and a touchdown … LB Trent Mackey has a team-high 55 tackles to go with five tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and an interception … DE Julius Warmsley leads the team with three sacks, while two players have two interceptions each.


    USF Open Date
    Next Game
    Sat 10/15 at UConn

    WEST VIRGINIA vs. UConn
    Sat 10/8
    12:00 PM
    Big East
    Saturday's game will be the eighth meeting between Connecticut and West Virginia in a series that began in 2004 … The Mountaineers won the first six meetings before the Huskies claimed their first win in the series last year — a 16-13 decision in overtime at Rentschler Field … West Virginia is 3-0 against Connecticut in Morgantown … The schools have tied for the Big East title twice in the last five years (2007, 2010).

    Connecticut fell to 2-3 after a 38-31 setback to Western Michigan at Rentschler Field … The Huskies are 1-1 on the road this season, falling 24-21 at Vanderbilt and scoring a 17-3 win at Buffalo … The Huskies enjoyed their best offensive performance of the season against Western Michigan last weekend, finishing with a season-high 451 yards, but allowed a season-high 490 yards to the Broncos … Connecticut has forced at least one turnover in all five games this season and has at least two takeaways in three of the five games … The Huskies have played three quarterbacks this year, though QB Johnny McEntee has settled in as the primary option … McEntee had career highs with 300 passing yards and four touchdown passes against Western Michigan … RB Lyle McCombs is ranked second in the BIG EAST in rushing at 100.4 yards per game … WR Kashif Moore has 16 catches for 220 yards and three touchdowns … LB Jory Johnson leads the Big East in tackles (8.8 per game) … DT Kendall Reyes is tied for the Big East lead with four sacks and is the conference leader with 9.5 tackles for loss.

    West Virginia bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 55-10 win against Bowling Green … The Mountaineers reeled off a season-high 643 yards of offense against Bowling Green and rank 14th nationally in total offense (496.0 yards per game) … West Virginia entered last week's game with 306 rushing yards on the season and rushed for 360 yards against Bowling Green … RB Dustin Garrison ran for 291 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons moving him to sixth in the Big East this season at 71.2 yards per game … QB Geno Smith, meanwhile, ranks fifth nationally in passing (341.8 yards per game) and seventh in total offense (368.3 ypg), leading the Big East in both categories … Smith has completed 138 of 213 passes for 1,709 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions … The primary beneficiary has been WR Tavon Austin, who is second in the Big East in both receptions (7.0 rpg) and receiving yards (98.0 ypg) … The defense is led by LB Najee Goode and LB Pat Miller, who have 36 tackles each … CB Keith Tandy and S Terence Garvin both have two interceptions, while three players have one sack each … DE Bruce Irvin leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss.


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